Baggara - Orientation



Identification. The Baggara derive their name from the Arabic word for cow, bagar (pl. bagarat ), and are known, therefore, as the "cattle people." "Baggara" as a term refers to a group of tribes that share certain cultural characteristics and claim kinship to each other and to a tribe in the Hejaz (southern Arabian Peninsula). The five main tribes of Baggara are the Messiriya, Humr, Hawazma, Reizegat, and Habbania. Other groups include the Beni Selim, Oulad Hamayd, Taʿaisha, Beni Helba, Beni Khuzam, Beni Husayn, and Salamat.

Location. The Baggara occupy an area of savanna in what are now the Sudanese provinces of Darfur and North and South Kordofan, at a latitude south of the thirteenth parallel and in a belt from the White Nile to Lake Chad. Moving east to west, the Baggara groups can be located geographically as follows: the Beni Selim on the banks of the White Nile; the Oulad Hamayd, south of Urn Ruaba, Kordofan; the Habbania, around Takali; the Hawazma, in the vicinity of Al-Ubayyid, Dilling, and Talodi, South Kordofan; the Messiriya, south of Abu Zabad, South Kordofan; the Humr, between El Odaya and the Bahr al-Arab, South Kordofan; the Reizegat, Habbania, Ta'aisha, Beni Helba, and Beni Khuzam, in southern Darfur; the Messiriya and Beni Husayn, in Darfur; and the Beni Helba, Beni Khuzam, and Salamat, in the area of the former sultanates of Ouadaï, Bornu, and Bagirmi, in Darfur.

Baggara territories are better adapted to cattle than to camels. These zones range from sparse scrubland in the northern areas, through arid and semiarid bushlands, to wooded savannas. Although the Nuba Mountains are found in central South Kordofan, most of the area is flat savanna. The zone is characterized by a hot, semiarid climate. Temperature means range from 30° to 32° C (March, April) to 25° to 27° C (December, January). Annual rainfall varies from about 10 centimeters in the northern areas to about 80 centimeters in the southern areas. Rains occur in a single season, primarily from June to September. Soil types, extending in west-to-east bands (which are important factors in vegetation and cattle movement) range from sandy ( qoz ), in the north; to noncracking clay ( gardud ), in the central areas; to cracking clay ( tiin ), in the southern Baggara areas. The vegetation consists primarily of several varieties of savanna grasses and several varieties of acacia trees and other scrubby, thorny brush. Except for a few small animals (primates, foxes, snakes) and large numbers of birds, most indigenous species have been decimated. Cunnison (1958) reported that Humr were hunting giraffes and that there were formerly elephants, large cats, ostriches, and gazelles in the area.

Demography. Statistics from the 1955-1956 census give the Rural Nomad population of Kordofan Province as 393,519. Statistics from the 1973 census give the Rural Nomad population of Kordofan as 406,710 and that of Darfur as 411,580. These figures are not broken down into tribal divisions; for comparison, Cunnison (1966) gives the 1955 Humr population as 54,997. Camping-unit composition and size vary seasonally, but generally range from 8 to 20 households, with a total camp population of 40 to 100 persons. The number of people who can camp together depends partly on factors such as the size of cattle herds and the availability of grazing and water.

Linguistic Affiliation. The Baggara speak a dialect of Arabic that is distinct from classical Arabic and from the Sudanese dialect, although the dialects are mutually intelligible.


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